'Athletic Freak' Is First Pick in the NFL Draft

Jacksonville Jaguars go with Travon Walker
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 28, 2022 9:33 PM CDT
First Pick in the NFL Draft: Jaguars Go With 'Athletic Freak'
Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Indianapolis. Walker is expected to be taken in the NFL Draft.   (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Placing more emphasis on pro potential than college production, the Jacksonville Jaguars chose Georgia pass rusher Travon Walker with the top pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, the AP reports. The Jaguars took the 6-foot-5, 272-pound “athletic freak” over Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson, who set a school record with 14 sacks in 2021 and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. General manager Trent Baalke had been leaning toward Walker for months and insisted new coach Doug Pederson was totally in agreement on selecting the former Bulldogs defender at No. 1. Critics argued that Hutchinson was the more polished product and pointed to Walker’s limited college numbers. He had 9½ sacks in three years in Athens, Georgia, including six during last season’s national championship run.

But Baalke and Pederson see a more versatile player in Walker, who logged snaps at defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker in Georgia’s vaunted defense last fall. His highlights include more than sacks; he stops the run, tackles speedy receivers in the open field and tips passes that lead to interceptions. “He's an athletic freak," Georgia defensive coordinator Will Muschamp told the Associated Press. "I swear to God he could line up at middle linebacker and go be fine. I would take him at No. 1 and not even blink.” The Jaguars did just that. Once a two-sport star with NBA dreams at Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston, Georgia, Walker eventually settled on football and quickly became one of the most sought-after recruits in talent-rich Georgia.

He signed with the Bulldogs and played college ball a little more than 100 miles from his hometown. He bided his time as a backup during his first two years at Georgia—he made the league’s Freshman All-SEC Team—and really started to blossom as a junior. He started all 15 games in 2021, finishing with 37 tackles, including 7½ for a loss, and two pass breakups. Jacksonville is the fourth NFL franchise with back-to-back No. 1 picks and is hoping to become the first to nail both selections. Tampa Bay (1976-77, 1986-87), Cincinnati (1994-95) and Cleveland (1999-2000, 2017-18) all failed to find success both times. The Jaguars believe quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the slam-dunk top choice a year ago, is on the verge of becoming a star and just needs more help around him.

(More NFL draft stories.)

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